Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Celestial Force and God's Scorched-Birth Policy (3.12.10)

People argue about Jesus -- it is easier than to let yourself be scorched by contact with him. -- Swami Abhishiktananda

All that is true, by whosoever spoken, is from the Holy Ghost. --St. Ambrose

In Christ the Eternal Tao, Hieromonk Damascene makes the claim that "we today are given much more than those who were born before Christ, for while pre-Christian prophets and sages were united with the Tao after their death, we have the potential of experiencing a foretaste of that eternal union during our earthly life. During his life on earth, Christ gave special means -- physical 'channels' of immaterial, Uncreated Teh -- by which to help effect this union." (Teh refers to the uncreated power of ultimate reality, or what we call O.)

Yes, the Christian message is universal, but it seems an unavoidable conclusion that it possesses an exoteric side and an esoteric side -- an outer teaching and an inner teaching, a primarily informational component and a more transformational component. Obviously, this can lead to charges of elitism, but in reality, it seems that the inner teaching is surrounded on all sides by cherubim with flaming swords who only allow those with sincere humility and childlike innocence to pass through: amen for a child's job!

And while I would certainly never denigrate the informational, or dogmatic, aspect of Christianity, I guess I agree with Abhishiktananda, who wrote, "let us not confuse the vessel with the treasure it contains.... as long as man attempts to seize and hold God in his words and concepts, he is embracing a mere idol." Thus, "in every religious experience there is a beyond, and it is precisely this 'beyond' that is our goal." (The book on Swami Abhishiktananda is highly recommended; it has Petey's imprimatur, in that it is 90% Coon-friendly, with only the usual heavy-handed attempt by Traditionalists to squeeze everything into the Schuon/Guenonian framework and to polemicize against "evolutionists".)

In Matthew 13:10, the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks in parables to the multitude, the implication being that he doesn't speak that way to them. "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.... I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." Evidently, teaching to the converted is different than preaching to the perverted.

Of course, everything Jesus said was provocative and well worth pondering. But it would appear that the exoteric teaching -- the parables -- are there to instruct those who can discern their meaning. But they are also vague and ambiguous enough to serve as a sort of protective covering over the esoteric side -- like the shell of a seed that surrounds and protects the kernel. In fact, Jesus proceeds directly to a parable involving a seed. When this seed is planted in "good ground," it "indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt 13:23).

In Mark 4:33, it says the same thing: "And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it.... And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples." This in itself has an inner meaning, for who is a disciple? And what does it mean to be alone with Jesus?

Exoteric teaching works from the outside in. But esoteric teaching works from the inside out. Clearly, this is where the third person of the trinity comes in, the "helper" promised by Jesus. There is no way to reconcile this helpful uncreated energy with anything found on this side of nature. It is intrinsically esoteric. Aligning oneself with it is perhaps the principle aim of the Christian life.

Hieromonk Damascene quotes a number of eminent authorities on this matter, for example, St. Seraphim of Sarov, who says that when Christ assures us that "The Kindom of Heaven is within you," he is "referring precisely to this seed of the Grace of the Holy Spirit implanted in the human soul."

Of course, we would all like to purchase a luxury corps at pentecost, but there's no such thing as a free launch. For it is like a treasure hidden in a field: "In order to acquire it, one must sell all that one has, buy the field, and then patiently and diligently dig." Apparently, no one's vehicle crosses the phoenix line unless it is first repossessed and amortized.

But if aligning oneself with the Holy Spirit is the principle aim of the Christian life, "digging" into ourselves is the principle method -- tilling the ground, planting the seed, nurturing it, and, especially, watching over the field. For, according to Hieromonk Damascene, "we still carry within ourselves the inclination and habit to return to our former condition." It is a law of embodied existence that, no matter what, we still fall downward 32 feet per second per second. It seems that the lower self digs itself so much, that it creates its own existential hole and then jumps in.

Another way of expressing it is to say that there is an inevitable circularity, or "curvature" to our worldly existence. That is, if we make an initial step in the right direction, that is not enough. Without a second step, a third step, a fourth step, etc., a certain inertia will set in that returns us to the place we started.

This inertia is a force that must be constantly countered. In order to alter its inevitable course, it must be acted upon by a force external to it. Repeatedly. This is why being "born again" just once will not cut it. Rather, one must pent and repent as necessary.

Hieromonk Damascene calls this "continuous metanoia." In order to achieve it, the ancient Christian ascetics developed the idea of "watchfulness," which involves "a state of inner vigilance, attention and sobriety." This kind of "inner attention" has very obvious parallels with raja yoga and Buddhist mindfulness meditation.

Jesus did not just say "pray." Rather, he said to "watch and pray." It's easy. First watch. Then pray while watching.

Watching what?

Hieromonk Damascene quotes one of the greatest authorities, St. John Climacus. In his The Ladder of Divine Ascent, he wrote, "Close the door of your cell to the body, the door of your tongue to speech, and your inner gate to evil spirits. Ascend into a watchtower -- if you know how to -- and observe how and when and whence, and in what numbers and what form, the robbers try to break in and steal your grapes.... Guarding against evil thoughts is one thing, keeping watch over the spirit [nous] is another. The latter... is far more difficult to attain. Where thieves see royal weapons at the ready they do not attack the palace lightly. Similarly, spiritual robbers do not lightly try to plunder the person who has enshrined prayer within his heart."

Hieromonk Damascene eliberates on this point, writing that watchfulness involves pulling our awareness "back into an objective state of observant mind, thus keeping watch over [the] spirit or 'higher mind'." In essence, it is a reversal of our primordial fall -- our worldward descent into distraction, fragmentation, and dissipation -- or, alternatively, congealing, thickening, and hardening. "Attention" and "distraction" are opposites. In the words of Christ, our eye must again become "single," so that the "whole body will be full of light."

Man is a microcosm, and only by opening up in a man the foundation of his being can the Spirit transform and spiritualize the cosmos to its depths. --Swami Abhishiktananda

21 Comments:

Blogger Lisa said...

Being the non-expert in the Christian Bible that I am, the quote from Matt reminded me of one of my favorites...Are things repeated in the Christian Bible this closely multiple times in many instances?

When this seed is planted in "good ground," it "indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt 13:23).

"And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold." (Mark 4:20)

Heh, I think Jesus and his buddies imbibed in a lil 420 once in a while. ;)

3/13/2008 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

lisa, The four different Gospels share source material and were written to different groups of Christians in the first century A.D., so there is a lot of overlap in what they were expressing. The Bible itself is one of the best expressions of the notion that 'scripture is one' despite coming from an enormous variety of sources and people. If it seems to contradict itself, it is that usually the contradiction you're seeing is in yourself.

3/13/2008 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

In fact, River, I don't see any contradictions in these statements at all. My lack of understanding and familiarity(non) with the actual structure or say bones of the Gospel is what is questionable. Thanks for explaining that the Gospel is the same story written by four people. I'm sure I've heard that before but not really paid attention. Is this why there are different branches of Christianity? Each branch preferring one narrative more leading to different practices and rituals.

Much can and has been said on the duality and paradoxical nature of O.There is a really good book I read called the Power of Aleph, err I mean
The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity by Amir D. Aczel (Paperback - Sep 1, 2001)

Incidentally or maybe eerily, there actually is a book called Power of Aleph and it looks fascinating. Maybe I should put it on my next read list.

wv: owinkzks ;)

3/13/2008 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

You highly recommended A Christian Pilgrim in India to me in a comment about a month ago, and I did read it. There's a lot of meat on them bones! It's funny what you said about the Traditionalists, as I often thought while reading, "This is an interesting story, and could be presented better!"

No comparing apples and oranges, but Abhishiktananda's understanding of Christ in his later life corresponded to my own.

I felt less easy about Christ the Eternal Tao, even though it was peppered with good things, such as the ones you quoted. I don't mean that critically; the presentation just seemed awkward. But the subject matter is very interesting. I'll look at it again.

Fun to read a post that points to so many things I regard as important. Thanks!

3/13/2008 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

"...spiritual robbers do not lightly try to plunder the person who has enshrined prayer within his heart."

Arts of the State
a beacon of light
even in the darkest days
unshuttered window

3/13/2008 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Lisa, I didn't suggest that you did. I think my style accidently slipped into diatribe. Sorry about that.

But yes, it is the same story told by different apostles to different groups of early Christians - thus you'll find different emphases. There is some indication that the order of most of the events in the Gospel stories is unimportant, save that the nativity precedes the theophany precedes the transfiguration precedes the passion. etc.

As for the second part there is definitely a relationship between the necessity of multiple accounts of the same story and the branching of Christianity.

3/13/2008 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

"let us not confuse the vessel with the treasure it contains....”

I am reminded of two passages: “Your God...must have put treasure in your bags” (Genesis 43:23); and, “Now we have this treasure in clay jars” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

The whole deal about “Christ in you – the hope of glory” is esoteric. Even though it is written right there in the Christian Bible, over and over again, it is a perfect example of people seeing but not perceiving.

It may be a meaningless truism taught to children, “and Jesus will come and live in your heart” – said in your best Church-Lady inflection.

Conversely, it can become a point of cultic confusion where a Jim Jones begins think it means he is God.

It can even be used to challenge the believer, e.g., “if you were a real Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you wouldn’t do X”, or “...you should be able to do Y”.

Christ lives in us, lives through us. I am the branch. He is the Vine. He's God. I Am Takin' Care of Business.

3/13/2008 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Walt--

Yes, I wouldn't consider the Tao of Christ a five-star recommendation, but the Abhishiktananda is another matter. I understand that the biography by Du Boulay, which I haven't yet gotten around to reading, is also very good. A remarkable man.

3/13/2008 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Episteme said...

As long as your analysis is built around, and relies on, dualisms such as Horizontal/Vertical, Shell/Kernel, Self/Other, you have yet to Understand Truth and your analysis will always be flawed.

3/13/2008 02:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

Thanks for the tip!

But we suggest you bone up on the differences between dualism and complementarity.

3/13/2008 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Epi-
It was evident from your very first comment that you're full of shit. Clearly that's still true.

Raccoon Alert:
Do not feed him - it's all about his ego. A troll not fed is more likely to stop soiling our drinking water.

Just say'n

3/13/2008 02:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Bulletproof Monk said...

Episteme said...

As long as your analysis is built around, and relies on, dualisms such as Horizontal/Vertical, Shell/Kernel, Self/Other, you have yet to Understand Truth and your analysis will always be flawed.

Bulletproof Monk replies...

Thank you for your kind reminder that all analysis proceeds from words and that words are inherently dualistic, therefore all analysis must be dualistic. For this reason the greatest theologians ("Knowers of God") often spoke through poetry and imagery and analogy, through art rather than analysis.

I leave you with the "Hymn to God Who is Beyond All Names" by St. Gregory Nazianzen (one of the greatest theologians).

*****

O You Who are beyond everything (o panton epekeina)! For what else can be sung about You?

What word can glorify You? For You are unutterable for any word!

What intellect can look at You? For You are incomprehensible for any intellect!

You alone are unspeakable, for You have begotten all speakable things.

You alone are unknowable, for You have generated all that is knowable.

Everything that has speech and that has not proclaimed You.

Everything reasonable and unreasonable venerates You.

The desires and pains which are common for all

Are directed at You! Everything prays to You.

Everything capable to understand Your commandment sends to You a speechless hymn.

All exists because of You alone. All in its entirety longs for You.

You are the limit of all, You are both One and All, yet You are None,

And You are neither One, nor All. O You Who have all names! How can I name You,

Who are alone nameless? What heavenly intellect

Would be able to break through clouds that hide You? Be merciful,

O You, Who are beyond everything. For what else can be sung about You?

*****

...forgive me

3/13/2008 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Within Trinity
an infinite space exists
astounding gemstOne.

3/13/2008 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger debass said...

Here is an interesting story:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3540989.ece

3/13/2008 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

So, epi, all is one and you are god? And there is no good or evil? Wow. How old are you?

3/13/2008 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

OK. Ordered "A Christian Pilgrim in India". It is probably pretty bad, since Bob has a tendency to find the scattered pearls in a big muddy field crowded with pigs. But one can always hope.

3/14/2008 01:36:00 AM  
Anonymous David Williams said...

There are no contradictions in the statements. And also lack of understanding the real structure says the Gospel. I never paid attention towards these and thanks for the explanation.

3/14/2008 04:08:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Debass!

Very interesting! More pestigious than the Nobel Prize . . . but, we never hear of it. Why. could. that. be?

From the article:

"...we are not asking about a cause like all other causes. We are asking about the root of all possible causes."

Thanks!

3/14/2008 04:17:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

The chicken/egg question I would have is: can we be truly attentive without some degree of detachment already being present?

If this be the case, we'd have to acknowledge that attentiveness, like detachment, is a grace from above - it can't be willed into being.

Still, we are commanded, in effect, to be awake, the implication being that it is in our power to be so. A corollary implication would be that though we may be asleep, we have the power to activate a divine principle within ourselves - detachment. This activation then, would come from above and below - it would be the result of both our own effort and grace, the meeting of heaven and earth.

3/14/2008 05:22:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Surely the command to be awake is for those who hear it. As with natural sleep, you can wake up briefly by someone calling you, but then it is very easy for some of us to fall asleep again, when we are very deeply tired. This is the normal human condition, to be extremely sleepy. We may wake up repeatedly but staying awake is not easy, at least at first.

3/14/2008 06:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Jen said...

Very interesting and more prestegious. And thanks for the explanation. It was difficult to understand the structure.

3/18/2008 06:31:00 AM  

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